Super Rugby Aotearoa, Round Nine - Teams and Predictions
LEAVING IT LATE: Friday’s Super Rugby Aotearoa match in Hamilton will see the second-placed Chiefs take on the visiting Hurricanes, who are wallowing in last position on the ladder – but that doesn’t mean Clayton McMillan is expecting an easy time of things.
The Chiefs, despite being on the cusp of earning a spot in the Aotearoa final, have struggled heroically for all four of their wins this season.
In only one of their victories were they leading at half-time, while the winning points in all their matches came in the final five minutes.
Damian McKenzie was the man of the hour in their final three games, scoring a try in the final play of the game to best the Blues, kicking a golden-point penalty against the Highlanders, and managing another long-range kick against the Crusaders to knock over the defending champions.
It’s a sign of the mammoth belief within the side that they’ve come out on top in all of their last four matches.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, haven’t been quite so successful.
The Wellington-based side have played six matches this year but managed just a solitary win against the Highlanders. Were it not for their close losses at the hands of the Chiefs [who came back from a 19-point deficit] and Crusaders [who stole the match in extra-time], they could still be challenging for a spot in the final.
Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan has acknowledged as such, suggesting that the Hurricanes certainly won’t be easy beats on Friday.
“I think they’ve been really unlucky,” he said. “Just like we’ve probably been lucky, to a certain extent.
“We’ve won some games at the death – a lot of games at the death. What we learned last year is that it could easily go the other way.”
Under Warren Gatland’s rule in 2020, the Chiefs suffered nine straight losses to Kiwi teams to round out the season – six by seven or fewer points.
Whether it was questionable refereeing calls, an inability to handle the pressure or just dumb luck, the Chiefs found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger time and time again.
That’s not a dissimilar situation that the Hurricanes have found themselves in this season, according to McMillan.
“I think the Hurricanes, to a certain extent, are probably feeling the same way that we probably felt last year,” he said. “But I was hugely impressed with [our] effort against the Hurricanes [in] one of those games that we were talking about, that could have easily gone their way.”
A bonus-point win for the Chiefs on Friday would cement their spot in the grand final but that will be an incredibly tough ask. Their last bonus-point win came against the Waratahs in Wollongong early last year while they’ve not secured a winning bonus point against a New Zealand side since March of 2017.
Still, confidence is high amongst the squad and their four-game win-streak has the team in a good mood ahead of the Friday night clash.
“When you win, everything becomes easier,” McMillan said. “The environment becomes easier, it becomes easier to talk to you guys [the media] – everything becomes easier. But it is a fine line between winning and losing.”
We take a closer look at Round Nine’s matches!
Friday, April 23:
Chiefs v Hurricanes
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.05; 07.05 GMT)
The Chiefs picked up a come-from-behind 35-29 win in their last Super Rugby game against the Hurricanes, snapping a six-game winless streak against them (D1, L5).
The Chiefs have won their last four Super Rugby games on the bounce – each by a margin of six points or fewer; the last time they won more in succession was a five-game winning streak from March to April in 2018 which was ended by a 25-13 defeat to the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes have lost six of their last seven Super Rugby games (W1) – including their last two on the bounce – despite having trailed at half-time only twice in that span.
The Hurricanes have been outscored by 32 points in the final quarters of their games in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season; they are the only team to have conceded (56) more points than they have scored (24) in this period.
Chiefs’ Brad Weber has made a league-high 10 clean breaks this Super Rugby Aotearoa season; he has made 10 clean breaks across his last seven Super Rugby games against the Hurricanes.
@rugby365com: Chiefs by seven points.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Samipeni Finau, 20 Kaylum Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Rameka Poihipi, 23 Chase Tiatia.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Salesi Rayasi, 10 Ruben Love, 9 Luke Campbell, 8 Devan Flanders, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Xavier Numia.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Pouri Rakere-Stones, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Brayden Lose, 22 Cam Roigard, 23 Billy Proctor.
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Mike Fraser
TMO: Glenn Newmann
Sunday, April 25:
Crusaders v Blues
(Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch – Kick-off: 15.35; 03.30 GMT)
The Crusaders have won their last 13 completed Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Blues, conceding an average of just 17 points per game.
The Crusaders last home game in Super Rugby ended in a 12-33 defeat to the Highlanders; they will now look to avoid consecutive home defeats for the first time
since April 2015.
The Blues have a 29 percent win rate against the Crusaders in Super Rugby, having won only 11 of their 38 previous scheduled meetings; it’s the Auckland side’s lowest win rate against any team in Super Rugby history.
Crusaders’ duo Will Jordan (92m) and Leicester Fainga’anuku (78m) have gained more metres per game than any other players in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa
Rieko Ioane (Blues) scored a try against the Highlanders last time out, snapping a four-game try less streak in Super Rugby; he has crossed for one try in each of his last two away games against the Crusaders.
@rugby365com: Crusaders by 10 points.
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Dallas McLeod, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane (co-captain), 12 Tanielu Tele’a, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii (co-captain), 6 Blake Gibson, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Taine Plumtree, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Otere Black, 23 AJ Lam.
Referee: James Doleman
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Paul Williams
TMO: Chris Hart
Source: Tom Vinicombe (@RugbyPass) & SANZAAR
*Statistical information provided by Stats Perform